Generic statements (e.g., “Birds lay eggs”) express generalizations about categories. In this paper, we hypothesized that there is a paradoxical asymmetry at the core of generic meaning, such that these sentences have extremely strong implications but require little evidence to be judged true. Four experiments confirmed the hypothesized asymmetry: Participants interpreted novel generics such as “Lorches have purple feathers” as referring to nearly all lorches, but they judged the same novel generics to be true given a wide range of prevalence (...) levels (e.g., even when only 10% or 30% of lorches had purple feathers). A second hypothesis, also confirmed by the results, was that novel generic sentences about dangerous or distinctive properties would be more acceptable than generic sentences that were similar but did not have these connotations. In addition to clarifying important aspects of generics’ meaning, these findings are applicable to a range of real-world processes such as stereotyping and political discourse. (shrink)
Number concepts must support arithmetic inference. Using this principle, it can be argued that the integer concept of exactly ONE is a necessary part of the psychological foundations of number, as is the notion of the exact equality - that is, perfect substitutability. The inability to support reasoning involving exact equality is a shortcoming in current theories about the development of numerical reasoning. A simple innate basis for the natural number concepts can be proposed that embodies the arithmetic principle, supports (...) exact equality and also enables computational compatibility with real- or rational-valued mental magnitudes. (shrink)
Psychological essentialism is the belief that some internal, unseen essence or force determines the common outward appearances and behaviors of category members. We investigated whether reasoning about transplants of bodily elements showed evidence of essentialist thinking. Both Americans and Indians endorsed the possibility of transplants conferring donors' personality, behavior, and luck on recipients, consistent with essentialism. Respondents also endorsed essentialist effects even when denying that transplants would change a recipient's category membership (e.g., predicting that a recipient of a pig's heart (...) would act more pig-like but denying that the recipient would become a pig). This finding runs counter to predictions from the strongest version of the “minimalist” position (Strevens,2000), an alternative to essentialism. Finally, studies asking about a broader range of donor-to-recipient transfers indicated that Indians essentialized more types of transfers than Americans, but neither sample essentialized monetary transfer. This suggests that results from bodily transplant conditions reflect genuine essentialism rather than broader magical thinking. (shrink)
Generic statements express generalizations about categories and present a unique semantic profile that is distinct from quantified statements. This paper reports two studies examining the development of children's intuitions about the semantics of generics and how they differ from statements quantified by all, most, and some. Results reveal that, like adults, preschoolers recognize that generics have flexible truth conditions and are capable of representing a wide range of prevalence levels; and interpret novel generics as having near-universal prevalence implications. Results further (...) show that by age 4, children are beginning to differentiate the meaning of generics and quantified statements; however, even 7- to 11-year-olds are not adultlike in their intuitions about the meaning of most-quantified statements. Overall, these studies suggest that by preschool, children interpret generics in much the same way that adults do; however, mastery of the semantics of quantified statements follows a more protracted course. (shrink)
Much evidence suggests that, from a young age, humans are able to generalize information learned about a subset of a category to the category itself. Here, we propose that—beyond simply being able to perform such generalizations—people are biased to generalize to categories, such that they routinely make spontaneous, implicit category generalizations from information that licenses such generalizations. To demonstrate the existence of this bias, we asked participants to perform a task in which category generalizations would distract from the main goal (...) of the task, leading to a characteristic pattern of errors. Specifically, participants were asked to memorize two types of novel facts: quantified facts about sets of kind members and generic facts about entire kinds. Moreover, half of the facts concerned properties that are typically generalizable to an animal kind, and half concerned properties that are typically more idiosyncratic. We predicted that—because of the hypothesized bias—participants would spontaneously generalize the quantified facts to the corresponding kinds, and would do so more frequently for the facts about generalizable properties. In turn, these generalizations would lead to a higher rate of quantified-to-generic memory errors for the generalizable properties. The results of four experiments supported this prediction. Moreover, the same generalizable-versus-idiosyncratic difference in memory errors occurred even under cognitive load, which suggests that the hypothesized bias operates unnoticed in the background, requiring few cognitive resources. In sum, this evidence suggests the presence of a powerful bias to draw generalizations about kinds. (shrink)
Psychological essentialism is an intuitive folk belief positing that certain categories have a non-obvious inner “essence” that gives rise to observable features. Although this belief most commonly characterizes natural kind categories, I argue that psychological essentialism can also be extended in important ways to artifact concepts. Specifically, concepts of individual artifacts include the non-obvious feature of object history, which is evident when making judgments regarding authenticity and ownership. Classic examples include famous works of art (e.g., the Mona Lisa is authentic (...) because of its provenance), but ordinary artifacts likewise receive value from their history (e.g., a worn and tattered blanket may have special value if it was one’s childhood possession). Moreover, in some cases, object history may be thought to have causal effects on individual artifacts, much as an animal essence has causal effects. I review empirical support for these claims and consider the implications for both artifact concepts and essentialism. This perspective suggests that artifact concepts cannot be contained in a theoretical framework that focuses exclusively on similarity or even function. Furthermore, although there are significant differences between essentialism of natural kinds and essentialism of artifact individuals, the commonalities suggest that psychological essentialism may not derive from folk biology but instead may reflect more domain-general perspectives on the world. (shrink)
Children and adults commonly produce more generic noun phrases (e.g., birds fly) about animals than artifacts. This may reflect differences in participants’ generic knowledge about specific animals/artifacts (e.g., dogs/chairs), or it may reflect a more general distinction. To test this, the current experiments asked adults and preschoolers to generate properties about novel animals and artifacts (Experiment 1: real animals/artifacts; Experiments 2 and 3: matched pairs of maximally similar, novel animals/artifacts). Data demonstrate that even without prior knowledge about these items, the (...) likelihood of producing a generic is significantly greater for animals than artifacts. These results leave open the question of whether this pattern is the product of experience and learned associations or instead a set of early-developing theories about animals and artifacts. (shrink)
Generic noun phrases (e.g. 'bats live in caves') provide a window onto human concepts. They refer to categories as 'kinds rather than as sets of individuals. Although kind concepts are often assumed to be universal, generic expression varies considerably across languages. For example, marking of generics is less obligatory and overt in Mandarin than in English. How do universal conceptual biases interact with language-specific differences in how generics are conveyed? In three studies, we examined adults' generics in English and Mandarin (...) Chinese. The data include child-directed speech from caregivers interacting with their 19-23-month-old children. Examples of generics include: 'baby birds eat worms' (English) and da4 lao3shu3 yao3 bu4 yao3 ren2 ('do big rats bite people or not?') (Mandarin). Generic noun phrases were reliably identified in both languages, although they occurred more than twice as frequently in English as in Mandarin. In both languages, generic usage was domain-specific, with generic noun phrases used most frequently to refer to animals. This domain effect was specific to generics, as non-generic noun phrases were used most frequently for artifacts in both languages. In sum, we argue for universal properties of 'kind' concepts that are expressed with linguistically different constructions. However, the frequency of expression may be influenced by the manner in which generics are expressed in the language. (shrink)
We propose that there is a powerful human disposition to track the actions and possessions of agents. In two experiments, 3-year-olds and adults viewed sets of objects, learned a new fact about one of the objects in each set , and were queried about either the taught fact or an unrelated dimension immediately after a spatiotemporal transformation, and after a delay. Adults uniformly tracked object identity under all conditions, whereas children tracked identity more when taught ownership versus labeling information, and (...) only regarding the taught fact . These findings suggest that the special attention that children and adults pay to agents readily extends to include inanimate objects. That young children track an object's history, despite their reliance on surface features on many cognitive tasks, suggests that unobservable historical features are foundational in human cognition. (shrink)
In this paper1 we study admissible consecutions in multi-modal logics with the universal modality. We consider extensions of multi-modal logic S4n augmented with the universal modality. Admissible consecutions form the largest class of rules, under which a logic is closed. We propose an approach based on the context effective finite model property. Theorem 7, the main result of the paper, gives sufficient conditions for decidability of admissible consecutions in our logics. This theorem also provides an explicit algorithm for recognizing such (...) consecutions. Some applications to particular logics with the universal modality are given. (shrink)
This set of seven experiments examines reasoning about the inheritance and acquisition of physical properties in preschoolers, undergraduates, and biology experts. Participants (N = 390) received adoption vignettes in which a baby animal was born to one parent but raised by a biologically unrelated parent, and they judged whether the offspring would have the same property as the birth or rearing parent. For each vignette, the animal parents had contrasting values on a physical property dimension (e.g., the birth parent had (...) a short tail; the rearing parent had a long tail). Depending on the condition, the distinct properties had distinct functions (“function-predictive”) were associated with distinct habitats (“habitat-predictive”), or had no implications (“non-predictive”). Undergraduates' bias to view properties as inherited from the birth parent was reduced in the function- and habitat-predictive conditions. This result indicates a purpose-based view of inheritance, whereby animals can acquire properties that serve a purpose in their environment. This stance was not found in experts or preschoolers. We discuss the results in terms of how undergraduates' purpose-based inheritance reasoning develops and relates to larger-scale misconceptions about Darwinian evolutionary processes, and implications for biology education. (shrink)
Bullot & Reber (B&R) provide compelling evidence that sensitivity to context, history, and design stance are crucial to theories of art appreciation. We ask how these ideas relate to broader aspects of human cognition. Further open questions concern how psychological essentialism contributes to art appreciation and how essentialism regarding created artifacts (such as art) differs from essentialism in other domains.
This article defends a continuity position. Infants can abstract numerosity and young preschool children do respond appropriately to tasks that tap their ability to use a count and cardinal value and/or arithmetic principles. Active use of a nonverbal domain of arithmetic serves to enable the child to find relevant data to build knowledge about the language and use rules of numerosity and quantity.
This chapter examines associationist models of cognitive development, focusing on the development of naming in young children — the process by which young children learn of construct the meanings of words and concepts. It presents two early-emerging insights that children possess about the nature of naming. These insights are: essentialism: certain words map onto nonobvious, underlying causal features, and genericity: certain expressions map onto generic kinds as opposed to particular instances. The chapter discusses empirical studies with preschool children to support (...) the contention that essentialism and genericity emerge early in development and that neither insight is directly taught. It also explores the question of whether these insights can be derived wholly from a direct reading of cues that are ‘out there’in the world, and concludes that they cannot. The implications of these findings for innateness are then considered. It is argued that both essentialism and genericity provide cues regarding plausible candidates for innate conceptual knowledge in children. (shrink)
The meaning and function of counting are subservient to the arithmetic principles of ordering, addition, and subtraction for positive cardinal values. Beginning language learners can take advantage of their nonverbal knowledge of counting and arithmetic principles to acquire sufficient knowledge of their initial verbal instantiations and move onto a relevant learning path to assimilate input for more advanced, abstract understandings.